Janis & Carl

Arts & Dementia – Come Dance With Me and other ways of Tapping into Creativity

Come Dance With Me

Recall old steps from memory, choose to create new ones, no matter, there is no wrong way, only your way. Designed to engage people living with dementia, these dance events offer lots of fun, exercise and joyful expression through movement. We have seen some inspiring results both in increased sociability, sustained friendships, moments of fun and truly inspiring creativity, and exciting, heart warming improvements in cognitive function. This is most obvious in the domains of communication, increased ability to focus, pay attention, concentrate and stay in the moment, orientation to time place and person and a very rewarding decrease in  periods of anxiety. For me (Beverley Giles), as coordinator, possibly best of all, is the strength of the friendships developed and the wonderful way participants support each other through down times and how each person ‘s self esteem is boosted as they achieve milestones together.

Although the class is set up for people living with dementia, each person is there as a dancer not a sufferer, or any such label. The class has been going for nearly five years and a great time is had by all. Partners are welcome and morning tea is an acknowledged highlight. The class is held on Tuesday Morning for six weeks at a time, with a one week break between each six week block. The current  round began on 15th January, 2019 and will run until 19th in 6 week cycles until December 10th, 2019. Dates for next year still to be decided.

Come Dance With Me is held at Dementia Friendly Metro Community Hub, 22 Qualtrough Street, Wooloongabba from 10 .30 am to 12.30 pm. The management and staff there have always been very supportive of our group. When Dementia Australia decided it would no longer fund the class, they immediately stepped up to give us use of the hall free, plus funding for morning tea,. With their support we have gone from strength to strength ever since. Now with Lizzie Vilmanis as our teacher, it’s full steam head, Yay! for us.

Lizzie, dancer extraordinaire, is one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. She started with us on Tuesday 22nd January, 2019.  After just two classes, I can’t tell you how much joy there is in watching how she listens, responds, enjoys, all the interactions she has with each unique individual in the group and their partners. Whoopee! At last, our dancers have a person to teach who “gets it”, who perceives and delights in the wonderful uniqueness of each person in the group.

Dementia is not a psychiatric condition. It is a group of signs and symptoms demonstrating extensive brain damage. There are familiar patterns, but the syndrome affects each person differently. We are born with 100, billion brain cells. One of those can make up to 10,000 connections. We go on growing new cells and making new connections for all of our lives, Even when a person is affected by dementia, he or she goes on making new cells and can make new connections but only if there is a need. Use it or lose it is true. As is use it and grow some more.  Many people who are living with dementia have much to contribute, to general understanding but nobody is in a position to represent another person’s needs and particularly her or his feelings.

It only took Lizzie one class, less really, to grasp this and to rejoice in the potential such riches in individual life experience will bring to what she can create for future classes. Our second class was quite different to the first. I have no doubt Lizzie has gone away and is putting together a class for next Tuesday which is even more focussed on what she has learned of what our dancers can do, want to do and don’t yet know is available to learn and do.

At last, we have a teacher with the attitude, skills and knowledge to ensure optimal movement, creativity, reminiscence, excitement, fun and joy for everyone. Dementia on its own does not stop a person from enjoying life and continuing to share their gifts with others. It is the lack of knowledge and understanding from others which is the root of most of the difficulties experienced by a person living with it. Barriers are placed in the way of her or him achieving their potential, in spite of the syndrome. If one was to do a skills and abilities audit ,of the people attending Come Dance With Me classes (over the more than 4 years since our inception), the sum total from individuals in this group, would outclass any other I can think of. Who knows what the future holds, all I know, without a doubt, after watching her in action, Lizzie will ensure each dancer feels really important and very confident the class is about her or him and their friends having a fabulous time every week. Who knows what our Come Dance With Me dancers will be able to achieve, enjoy and generally look forward to but it will be fantastic. Watch this space.

Below, a photograph of Lizzie with Brian Lucas when they performed together, last year in Natalie Weir’s Everyday Requiem. And, Lizzie in rehearsal for that role.  She infused the sensitive role with such emotional power, I reckon there was not a dry eye in the house. That capacity for empathy is essential to this teaching role and Lizzie has it in bucketfuls.

A PHOTO - Lizzie and Brian       Lizzie in Everyday Requiem

When Lizzie said yes to teach our class my heart leapt for joy. Her enthusiasm for the role was such a delight and she is brimming over with ideas to ensure fun and achievement. Joyful times. At last this class has a teacher with ALL the gifts I know will give them the opportunities they deserve. 

Freed from the role of leading the class, I anticipate wonderful times ahead. I am not a dance teacher, but I am a workshop facilitator with considerable experience and capacity for play, something some dance teachers (not Lizzie) don’t understand is very important for people with dementia. The brain loves play and laughter does great things. Now I can go back to using my recognised skills. As a volunteer Dementia Consultant and Educator, my role is to do what I can to ensure dementia has the least affect possible on the capacity of those living with it, to engage and enjoy the class Lizzie creates for them. .

WaW Dance dancers continue to support the class. Volunteer Robyn Holdway has been with us from the start. Whilst she is in Canada, another WaW Dancer Judy Macsporran, has stepped up. Olivia and Betty are regular volunteers. They do a fantastic job assisting across the board and especially to encourage engagement and participation.  The class is a joyful, fun filled and failure free social gathering for people affected by dementia and their friends. We are all dancers, together.




Ask yourself: If not me, who? If not now when? There is plenty of evidence for the wide ranging value of participating in movement and dance. If  you want to know more about setting a class up, get in touch with me, I’ll be happy to help with some core information. Just find out what you need to know to recognise something good and then just get on with making it happen. Essential qualities for everyone involved: kindness, respect, a genuine liking for people.

Real leaders, are ordinary people with extraordinary enthusiasm.

If you have dance experience, a Come Dance With Me class could be a good start toward the larger goal of making where you live a dementia friendly town or suburb.

Arts don’t look for right or wrong answers. Arts give people with dementia the means and the freedom to express themselves. When we create something new, our brain has to do the same.

Thus new connections are made, existing abilities retained for longer and new cells encouraged to grow and connect; leading to more independence for anyone affected by dementia, an ongoing boost to cognitive reserve, new friends and a joyous fun time for all.

Exercise is good for the brain and dancing is the most effective exercise we know to reduce the risk, delay the onset and assist a person to live with dementia.

Even those people who are not mobile, or who lack confidence standing need not miss out. The following is an example of a very successful class specifically for people living with dementia who may no longer be confident standing unaided.

When I was visiting London, on my tour of discovery in 2013 I met the inspiring founder of Green Candle Dance Company,  Fergus Green, who very kindly invited me to attend a class, very similar to one featured on their Website we all had a fabulous time, everybody participated, nobody missed out. www.greencandledance/about .

Music is a wonderful way of connecting people with their memories and of sustaining or reinvigorating relationships, especially with those closest to us. For people affected by dementia, this is even more important.

Technology has made this experience so much more effective. Personalised playlists, including all those musical connections with special moments and important people can easily be created and loaded on to i Pods or MP3 devices. This, accompanied by over the ear phones which are comfortable and easy to wear, makes the experience or listening to music even more personal.



Story telling

Story telling: is something a person with dementia can do very well.

The open poetic language of improvised story telling invites a person with dementia to express himself and thus connect with others who are doing the same.

Use Flip Charts and the Improvisation game Yes and?  To keep the story moving along, encourage spontaneity, recognise every contribution and affirm the person by name.

The inspirational leader of Grand Gestures Dance Company, Paula Turner, and her Dry Water partner Frances Anderson, feature a video on their Website which is an excellent example of how to lead a group using Anne Basting’s Timeslips method of a group of people who are using  imagination to create a story.

www.timeslips.com this website has a great deal of useful, material and these resources freely available to anyone who wants to use this method to engage people with dementia in an activity that can give them opportunities to have fun whilst creating a story, and/or poem. this can occur successfully in small groups, or one to one at home with a person.